The Mystery of Naan (Update #8)

Yesterday’s bake was a quasi-experiment. It was combination of scientific method and curiosity that yielded tasty results. I whipped up 30 naan breads and filled four of my five trials with a different vegetable combination. The control trial had no filling. Now, reading this you might be thinking, “Jonny, why did you spend four hours yesterday baking naan on your stovetop just to see which vegetable combination made the tastiest flatbread?” And to that I would respond that life is about taking chances, embracing risks, and creating opportunities to taste delicious veggies prepared many ways. So, that’s what I did.

Do it right, do it fresh!

Do it right, do it fresh!

Naan is a flatbread that originated in India circa 1300 AD. Since then, it has been prepared and enjoyed countless times by fans and foodies around the world, and it is one of the most recognizable flatbreads on the planet. Though, in my opinion, most tasty when paired with a main dish of savory chana masala (all hail chickpeas), naan is no pushover when it comes to stardom and has the ability to shine on its own with ease. My favorite naans and kulchas (a close cousin made with maida flour) are filled with a flavorful vegetable like onions, and this taste inspired me to set out on a journey toward finding the perfect filling for these flatbreads. The vegetables that I chose for each trial are as follows: plain (control – trial 1), onions (trial 2), spring onions (trial 3), garlic and spinach (trial 4), broccoli (trial 5). Though not based on any possible numerical measurements, I was interested to see the results of the moisture content of each flatbread based on the various vegetables inside, the viability of the dough to maintain its filling throughout the baking process and lead to a successful bread, and, of course, taste. My hypothesis was that the flatbreads with vegetable fillings would be a lot less dry than the plain naan and, therefore, more pleasing to eat. While I predicted that all the dough would be strong enough to hold in every filling, I thought that the onion-filled naan would strike the best balance between texture and taste due to the relatively high water content of onions (89%).

A baker bent over his work

A baker bent over his work

I will start out my discussion of procedure by saying that naan is a lot easier to make than you think. Whipping out some homemade flatbreads at a barbecue or potluck will not only impress family and friends, but it will also provide a tasty, nourishing side that can support virtually any main dish. To start out, the desired filling is chopped into very small pieces and sautéed for three minutes in a pan with a tablespoon of butter (for onions, you want to cook them until they are slightly translucent but not brown – go for low heat). While that’s happening, melted butter, warm water, and salt are mixed together in a large bowl. The cooked filling is then added to the bowl along with a wheat-based flour of your choosing. After this, the dough is kneaded for two minutes on a floured surface until it forms a mass. The mass is then divided into however many pieces of naan desired, rolled into balls, and left to rest on the counter for three minutes before the balls are pressed down and rolled out as thin as the vegetable filling will allow. For cooking, use a heavy-duty skillet that is heated on the stovetop until water instantly vaporizes when dropped onto the cooking surface. It is imperative that the skillet is extremely hot but not scorching, so give the pan some time to reach the desired temperature. Then, almost like non-runny pancakes, the naan is placed in the hot pan for four minutes on each side to assure even browning. The main time-consuming thing about baking naan is the actual cooking of the bread itself, as probably no more than two naans can be heated on a skillet at once. Patience with cooking this bread on the stovetop will be rewarded with a beautiful browned crust and countless soft, warm bites of yumminess.

The addition of vegetables to the mixing bowl!

The addition of vegetables to the mixing bowl!

Rolling after the pieces had a little chance to rest

Rolling after the pieces had a chance to rest 

Cooking! I usually had two things going at once on the stovetop during this bake. One pan for naan and one pan for filling!

Cooking! I usually had two things going at once on the stovetop during this bake. One pan for naan and one pan for fillings!

My results were straightforward and qualitative. The hypothesis about dryness can be confirmed in that, though every naan I made was edible and relatively tasty, the trial without any vegetable filling was almost like a cracker by the time it cooled. All trials were viable, leading me to think that almost any vegetable can stand up to being baked into a naan (next I want to try mushrooms and cauliflower!), and the tastiest flatbread filling was left up in the air. Thought totally subjective and unscientific, my mom and dad’s favorite was the spinach and garlic while I like the onion naan the best. The point here is that you should feel comfortable filling your naan with pretty much any vegetable (as long as it is chopped very finely), and any vegetable is better than none for the bread’s textural profile.

Onion naan close-up

Onion naan close-up

A table full of naan is a table full of love!

A table full of naan is a table full of love!

The experimental error in this one comes down to timing. Besides being slightly off in the exact time it took for me to rotate every trial from counter to skillet, I controlled most other variables pretty well. I used all the same materials and amounts of filling (one cup each), and, besides slight variability in shape and the obvious difference of fillings, the naans all came out looking pretty much identical. Baking this flatbread was a joy. It was a change from the classic yeasted loaf that I really needed after weeks of completing very similar processes in terms of rising and kneading to make breads like Irish Freckle, Challah, and Pumpernickel. I encourage everyone reading to get out there and bake some naan to spice up your life!

My cat joined me for a post-bake fashion show!

Fashion show

Comments

  1. RASHKEYROV says:

    Jonny, I really enjoyed reading about your flavorful experiment. I’m wondering what vegetable to dough ratio you used and if this was the same with each vegetable, as well as if anything beyond a love for bread inspired you to do this project (although that in itself is a valid and relatable reason). Cheers!

  2. jmmalks says:

    Hey! I used the same vegetable to dough ratio for every trial to completely control my ingredients. I’m doing this project to help home bakers not make the same mistakes that I always do. The hope is to improve upon classic bread recipes so that people can have fun baking at home with better results!

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